Do you ever struggle with what to eat each day? Or even for each meal? I know I used to. Back when I was homeschooling my two kids, home all day with them, you cannot imagine how many times 3 PM would roll around and I’d be wondering what to make for dinner!
This went on for years. I just couldn’t seem to pull it together, no matter how many times I tried (and failed).
But then I learned about meal planning.
Meal planning can be as simple as thinking about what you want to eat on a particular day, but we’re going after something a bit more forward thinking. If you’re just starting out, it can be helpful to just plan your weekday dinner meals.
You certainly don’t want overwhelm yourself if this is something new. If you’re used to just “winging it,” or worse, throwing in the towel and making book to the nearest KFC or Taco Bell, you really need to start simple. Trust me; I know what I’m talking about.
Google “meal planning” and literally hundreds, if not thousands of links will show up. What are you supposed to do with that? And don’t even get me started on Pinterest. You can get lost in there for days.
That’s where this post will come in handy. I’ve tried many plans over the years. Why? Because I’m not the most organized person in the world (a huge understatement). Now you can learn from my
Before we go on, I want to stress something–you MUST be sure to plan for meals that you and your family will actually EAT. Many times I have planned an awesomely healthy week, only to find when it’s time to actually eat it, I have zero interest. What are you supposed to do then? You either eat something you don’t want, or “save” it for
the trash can later. Totally wasteful. So just. don’t. do. that! Make stuff you’ll eat.
This is why it’s a good idea to start with only 2 or 3 days at first, if you’ve never planned much before.
Why Should You Plan Your Meals?
It can save your sanity.
I cannot tell you how many times during my time as a wife/stay-at-home mom/home school teacher I found myself at 3 PM wondering what in the heck we were going to have for dinner. No matter how many times I wanted to have a successful plan for meals, and how many different ideas I tried, I failed time and again.
Now that my kids are grown and it’s just my husband and me, I still need to plan. I have a full-time job, and a lot of other things in my life; perhaps even more than when I was home with my kids.
It can most definitely save you money.
Ever rifled through your freezer or only to find unmarked or freezer-burned mystery food that ends up in the trash? Or outdated, stale pantry items hiding somewhere behind all the half-used cereal boxes? You may be far more organized than I am (was), but if so, you probably don’t need this primer.
We purchase frozen chicken breasts and thighs at Costco, for example, and keep them in the freezer in our laundry room. This turns out to be less expensive then purchasing chicken breasts on the way home from work because I just figured out at 3:30 what we should have for dinner.
I know that many people may have the time and wherewithal to shop bargains at several different stores with coupons. Not me. I want to cut the time it takes me to shop, cook, and prepare delicious and satisfying meals.
You can stop wasting so much food.
I have been so guilty of this! I make too much and the leftovers get lost in the refrigerator. Or I purchase a 5 pound bag of potatoes but cannot use them all within the week or however long they last before going bad (rotting potatoes have to be the worst smelling thing on earth).
With meal planning you shop for what you need for the entire set of meals or menus you plan to prepare. You really can plan for little or no food waste.
I don’t know about you, but I am a picky eater and have family members who are just as picky, if not more so.
We like flavorful food, comfort food. If you crave chicken Parmesan or fettuccine Alfredo, you can find healthier options with less fat, sodium, or what have you. Also, if you
want need to fit more vegetables into your daily meals, this is an excellent way to be somewhat stealth about that.
It will probably give you some much-needed variety!
I know it did for me and my family. Without a plan, I fell back on the same meals constantly. I really like a simple plan and I do repeat a lot, but it was getting ridiculous. I needed to up my game some and add variety into my family’s diet.
Finally, it can ease that “what’s for dinner” stress time in the late afternoon.
Don’t take this lightly—it can be very important. I have a high-stress job and the last thing I need is obsessing daily over what’s for dinner.
First make a list of your favorite dinner meals.
Hopefully you have 7-10 of them (or more). If not, don’t worry…you’ll develop others as you find new recipes (with all your freed-up time!).
Don’t be concerned at this time about what you already have in the freezer, etc. Just write your favorite meals down. Then pick three or four of them to start.
Maybe even two if you think taking on too big of a challenge will overwhelm you. Baby steps here!
For more on this “make a list of your favorite meals” thing, see my post on how to choose your future meal plans. There are lots of options!
If you know them by heart, or they don’t really need a recipe, you’re ahead of the game. Once you have your ingredient list, you can check your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry to see what you need to shop for. I’ll share an example later in the post.
You can also check out my post on how I organize my recipes for one idea.
Check your fridge, Freezer and pantry!
If you need to clean those out first, by all means do so. But go ahead and check to see if you have chicken breasts, ground meat (whether beef, turkey, chicken), or any roast. What about still usable frozen veggies?
Now check for pantry staples like chicken, vegetable or beef broth, various herbs and spices, dried or canned beans, pasta, tomato products. Of course you should throw out anything that is very outdated. Not that you would have anything like that, right?
I don’t think I need to tell you (but I’m going to anyway) that you should not go to the grocery store hungry. Stick to your list and do not purchase a bunch of impulse stuff! No chips, candy, frozen pizza.
Organize your list according to how your favorite store is set up. I generally shop for pantry staples and the like first, and then hit fresh produce, followed by frozen items.
Check to be sure that, even if you have an item in your pantry or freezer that there is enough of it, AND that it isn’t hopelessly outdated. I have certainly found those types of items in my home from time to time. The last time I looked, I had no fewer than 3 containers of paprika! I don’t (or didn’t) use paprika very often, so I would assume I didn’t have any, get more at the store, etc.
Some people like this part, some (like me) don’t go wild over it. I’m a get in there and get out kinda gal, which can be a positive (I don’t necessarily linger over stuff I shouldn’t purchase). But it can also mean I get out of there having forgotten something. Since the goal here is to only have to shop once a week (once every two weeks?) this can be a problem.
But, it has to be done, so just do it. Or, use one of the newer grocery delivery services that many stores seem to have available now, if that’s your thang. Instacart is a service that will shop at your local grocery stores, if it’s in your area. Check the link I have there, you can see if they are available in yours.
Many other stores have this service, such as Walmart, Costco, Safeway, Fred Meyer (part of Kroger in my area), and many more. It’s not something I’ve done, but I know people who swear by it.
Do Some Prep Work Right After You Get Home From Shopping
I know, I know. You’re all tired out and hungry from the shopping. Okay, maybe you can make a sandwich while your husband puts away the perishables. But there is still work to do. Trust me, this will save you so much time later in the week, or possibly month. Now that’s my kind of tired!
But seriously, some prep work can go a long way toward making your weeknights (and mornings) much easier and less stressful.
That’s it for now, but stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll detail the preparation work and storage.